It's disturbingly easy to forget that China is operating a genocidal program of ethnic cleansing against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang province. The secrecy of the concentration camps and the chaos of the world makes it all rather abstract.
But periodically, a leak or a first-hand account will bring the issue back to the fore, and each time that happens, it's a chance to galvanize action. We've missed a lot of these chances.
In 2017, the Chinese state announced that it would collect the DNA of every person in the province.
Later that year, we learned that cops were using ubiquitous stop-and-frisks to force Uyghurs to install surveillance apps on their phones:
In 2018, a redditor visiting Xinjiang was forced to install the surveillance app at the border:
It wasn't a one-off - soon, every tourist was having the app installed during border inspections:
When Human Rights Watch reverse-engineered the app, they revealed just how far-reaching and sinister it was - a system for algorithmic surveillance, suspicion and accusation:
But as chilling as these dry technological accounts were, they were still technical, not personal. It was only when they were augmented by leaks about the plans for ethnic cleansing and survivor accounts from the camps that the true horror set in.
The pic of hundreds of prisoners kneeling in ranks on a train platform, shaven heads bowed:
And then the leaked Chinese intelligence memos detailing the plan to open 500 concentration camps disguised as "training centers."
The camp survivor who told of punitive rape, forced labor, torture and medical experimentation:
And the hundreds of pages of leaked state docs revealing that the cruelty was part of the plan, the "no mercy" plan inspired by America's decades-long domestic "war on terror."
Gradually, the connection between the camps, the apps, and everyday life came into focus. The camps were everting, thanks to the apps, turning Xinjiang's cities into "smart cities" that operated as satellites of the camps:
And every month, fresh reminders that Xinjiang is part of the "supply chain": that our electronics, covid supplies, and gewgaws are being made by terrorized slaves as part of a wider plan to erase a people:
We've squandered so many opportunities to treat the situation in Xinjiang with the alarm it deserves, and yet they keep coming, bought with the blood of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.
Today, the Intercepted podcast reports on another set of leaks, these describing the terror of everyday life outside of the camps - cities overshadowed by surveillance and the looming threat of being taken away.
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